A range of flowers in Colins Paddock

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Wild flowers at Magog Down prev  :  next

Ground Ivy - Glechoma hederacea

Hops, Reformation, bays and beer
Came to England all in one year -

ground_ivy_250so says the old rhyme. But before beer there was ale and, before hops came, other herbs were used to clarify and flavour the brew. Ground Ivy was perhaps the most popular of these plants - hence the old name of 'alehoof'.

Other names by which the herb has been known include 'runaway jack', 'gill-over-the-ground' and 'robin-run-in-the-hedge'. The now standard name 'ground ivy' is not only less descriptive but is positively misleading as the plant is not related to the common ivy but is a member of the Deadnettle Family (Labiatae).

Like all members of this Family, ground ivy has a square stem and its leaves are borne in pairs, each pair arising at right angles to the pair below. The stems often run along the ground for a considerable distance producing roots at the leaf nodes. Flowers are borne from March to June in clusters of three to five in the axils of the leaves on ascending stems. In each cluster the centre flower is the first to open. The buds often twist to the light so the two clusters on either side of a node come to lie close together in a single group. The flowers are tubular, two-lipped and of a beautiful violet colour with purple spots on the lower lip.

Glands on the undersides of the leaves produce the aromatic oil which gives the plant its distinctive smell and impart distinctive flavour to tea made from it (refreshing - but something of an acquired taste!). Mixed with honey the tea is said to ward off coughs and colds, and the dried leaves have been used as snuff to cure colds and headaches. It has also been recommended for digestive troubles, and in the Ludlow area the leaves were used for stuffing pork.

Ground ivy likes to grow in partial shade in a woodland or hedgerow habitat. On Magog Down you may find it around the old belt of trees and it is particularly abundant on either side of the gap at the top of the hill.

Ground ivy was one of the herbs sold in the streets of London and it found a place in many a cottage garden. You will find it in abundance on the Down, but if you want to use it for tunning ale, stuffing pork or curing headaches - please grow your own.

David Yarham
May 1994

See also...

Report of the visit from Cambridge Natural History Society in August 2017


News about a visit by the local branch of Butterfly Conservation charity taking place in August 2016


News about the very special area of Colin's Bank, published in February 2015

Pasque Flower

One of our Friends sent us this beautiful picture of some Pasque Flowers taken in amongst the Cowslips in May 2016.pasqueflower_jb_may2016_crop_453

Photo by Jill Butler